MEXICO CITY – Reused graves and an increasingly more elaborate modus operandi are among the characteristics of the 222 clandestine graves containing 337 bodies found in Mexico during the last six months, the federal government said on Tuesday.
“From Dec. 1 to May 13, we’ve found 81 areas with 222 clandestine graves and 337 bodies,” Alejandro Encinas, the deputy secretary of Human Rights, Population and Migration, said at a press conference in the National Palace.
While those numbers are chilling, Encinas said that previous administrations “hid or minimized” the actual figures, often by lumping them in with homicide statistics.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government will issue reports every two weeks on the number of graves and bodies discovered, Encinas said.
The data compiled since Lopez Obrador took office last December show that the largest concentrations of burial sites and bodies are in the states of Colima, Tabasco, Sonora, Zacatecas, Guerrero, Jalisco and Veracruz.
Encinas stressed that the situation is constantly evolving.
“The tasks of exhumation are in process,” he said.
The National Graves Registry is based on information from the National Search Commission, the federal Attorney General’s Office and state prosecutors, as well as on input from victims’ families.
And as disturbing as the numbers for the last six months are, they represent only the tip of the iceberg.
In a report issued Monday, Mexico’s independent National Commission on Human Rights said that 855 graves and 1,548 bodies were found between 2007 and 2016.
Quinto Elemento Lab, an organization devoted to investigative reporting, put the number of clandestine graves detected in the decade 2006-2016 at 2,000.
The government said in February that Mexico had a total of 40,000 unsolved missing-persons cases and 26,000 unidentified bodies lying in morgues across the country.
“We will go immediately to all those places where we receive anonymous or open accusations, or where we have indications that the possibility of a (clandestine) grave exists,” Encinas said.
He said that the dimensions of the phenomenon “is shown not only in the large number of graves found, but also in the practices (of the criminals).”
The deputy secretary pointed to a mass grave found in the western state of Nayarit that was 4m (13ft) deep and could only be reached with the help of earth-moving machinery.
Investigations in Iguala, Guerrero – notorious for the 2014 abduction and murder of 43 students – uncovered “prefabricated graves” ready to receive bodies, Encinas said.
He said that authorities have also detected instances where clandestine graves were “recycled,” with criminals dumping fresh bodies into pits from which human remains were previously exhumed.
Encinas concluded by pledging to obtain assistance from international organizations in improving Mexico’s search for missing people and its support for victims’ families.
The government took steps in March to reorganize the approach to the problem, resurrecting one federal commission and creating a new one alongside it.
The tragedy of the disappeared “is the legacy of a wrong and failed policy to confront the violence in the country,” Lopez Obrador said Tuesday.